French hornist Jeff Scott, left, oboist Toyin Spellman-Diaz, flutist Valerie Coleman, bassoonist Monica Ellis and clarinetist Mariam Adam make up the Grammy-nominated Imani Winds. (Matthew Murphy)
Imani means “faith” in Swahili, and it took a real leap of faith when flutist Valerie Coleman formed the New York-based Imani Winds in 1997.
“I was sitting in a sublet apartment during grad school, and the name came before the group formed,” she recalls. Coleman asked music schools and fellow musicians to recommend wind players who would be interested in joining a fledgling wind quintet.
“I think the group’s name was a catalyst for calling everybody up cold turkey after being recommended to me,” she says.
At their first meeting in a practice room at the Manhattan School of Music, the group read through Samuel Barber’s Summer Music. “I remember being so moved by the vibe,” Coleman says. “It was as if it was meant to be.”
Apparently, it was.
Since then, the Grammy-nominated ensemble, which in addition to Coleman includes bassoonist Monica Ellis, clarinetist Mariam Adam, oboist Toyin Spellman-Diaz and French hornist Jeff Scott, has been on a roll. They’ll appear in two area appearances Friday and Saturday in concerts presented by the Chamber Music Society of Detroit (CMSD). Each evening will have a different program.
The first features music from Elliott Carter to Cuban jazzman Paquito D’Rivera. The second includes “Summer Music” — the first piece that Imani played and which the CMSD commissioned 60 years ago — as well as wind sextets by Poulenc and Schuller, with guest pianist Gil Kalish.
Imani Winds isn’t your typical wind quintet. Although it plays the standard classical repertoire, it also sinks its teeth into jazz, Latino, African, Middle Eastern and any other style of music that strikes its fancy. It has joined forces with the Wayne Shorter Quartet, the Brubeck brothers and others.
Coleman and Scott also compose for the ensemble; three of her works will be performed over their two-day Detroit stay. The group also keeps its repertoire fresh by commissioning pieces by both established and emerging composers.
Those world premieres are like venturing into uncharted territory. Without recordings or performances as a reference, questions regarding tempo, dynamics and other musical matters sometimes arise. When they do, the members go directly to the source — the composer.
“The ideal situation is to have the composer present when we’re rehearsing,” Coleman says. But if that’s not feasible, the ensemble relies on technology.
“Skype is a beautiful thing,” she says.
When you have five musicians with different temperaments and ideas about how to perform, discrepancies are inevitable. But Coleman says open communication in rehearsals is the key to bringing off a sterling performance.
“When we started out, we sometimes would butt heads,” she says. “But as the years have gone on, we’ve learned not to take ourselves so seriously and live in the joy of the music, which has allowed us to communicate more.”
Both Coleman and bassoonist Ellis recently had babies, but Coleman says their familial duties won’t deter them from continuing to perform the adventurous music that has been their hallmark for 17 years.
That’s something you can take on faith.
8 p.m. Friday
Jazz Café at the Music Hall
350 Madison, Detroit
Tickets $40 advance; $50 day of, $60 preferred seating
8 p.m. Saturday
22305 W. 13 Mile,
George Bulanda is a freelance reporter.